5 Common Self-Publishing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

self-publishing mistakes

Even with all the preparation in the world, self-publishing a book can be a real minefield. Sometimes it seems like around every corner, there’s another potential complication that could blow up your book launch… and not in a good way.

This is why it’s crucial to be aware not just of what you should do, but also what you shouldn’t do. Whether you’re just putting your first book on Amazon or you’ve already released countless titles, every self-publishing author can benefit from knowing the most common mistakes to avoid and how to avoid them — which is exactly what I’m going to share with you today.

Mistake #1: Not getting a pro cover design

mistakes in self publishing

You’re probably sick of hearing this particular self-publishing tip, especially if you don’t have a huge budget for book design (which admittedly can be pretty pricey). “Why does my book need a fancy cover?” you may be wondering. “After all, it’s what’s inside that counts.”

Yes, in a perfect world, we would all adhere to that adage. But alas — customers are fickle, and in a market with practically limitless options, they’re not going to waste their time investigating a book with an amateur cover. Even if your book is the next coming of Fitzgerald (or whoever you’re hoping to emulate), amazing writing is no use if readers can’t look past your cover.

Which is why, of all the boosts you can possibly give your book, getting a professional cover design should be your first priority… even if it ends up costing a bit more than you’d ideally spend. Trust me: you won’t regret investing in a polished and genre-indicative book cover that not only catches the reader’s eye, but also implicitly promises them great content.

What you will regret is making your cover yourself with MS Word clipart, releasing your book, then realizing you can’t make a single sale — because, unfortunately, people do judge books by their covers. The sooner you accept that reality and commission a decent cover, the sooner you can start selling big.

Mistake #2: Phoning in your book description

self publishing mistakes

If having a crappy cover design is the worst thing you can do as a self-publishing author, having a mediocre book description is a close second. And the logic is similar: your book description is one of the first things potential readers see when inspecting your book, which means they will judge you on it. So even if your cover’s absolutely gorgeous, a lackluster description can still be a dealbreaker for readers.

In order to absolutely nail your book description on Amazon and other retailers, you need to do three key things:

  1. Reel in readers with an irresistible hook;
  2. Use keywords relevant to your target audience; and
  3. Clearly demonstrate what they’ll get out of reading.

#1 is a no-brainer — basically, you need to be pitching your book from the very first word of your description. Your hook might be a pull quote from a glowing review, or an element of your work that piques the reader’s interest; whatever it is, it should make them want to read on.

You’ll also need keywords in your description so that your target audience can actually find your book, and so they’ll know they’re in the right place when they do. These keywords should indicate your genre, subject(s), and any buzzwords that could describe your book. When in doubt, check your top competitors’ book descriptions to see which keywords they use!

Finally, you need to demonstrate how your book can be of value to readers, whether it’s teaching them in the form of a nonfiction book or providing entertainment in the form of a novel. If the former, it may be helpful to mention your credentials and qualifications in your description, so readers know they’ll be getting information from an expert. If you’re publishing fiction, leave them with a question or cliffhanger about the narrative, so they know they’ll get an answer as soon as they read your book.

Remember: everyone has distinct, individual selling points to their work. You just need to find yours, and emphasize them as much as possible in your book description!

Mistake #3: Marketing without a street team

self publishing street team

Our third common self-publishing mistake is somewhat lesser-known: going into your launch without a street team, or group of people to help you promote your book. Not having a street team puts you at a serious disadvantage compared to other writers in your genre who do have their friends, fans, and fellow authors helping them out. Even the best single-person marketing plan in the world is no match for the power of the people (plural).

Of course, ensuring you have a solid street team in place is easier said than done, so brace yourself: you’ll need to begin planning for this one week or months in advance of your book launch. Luckily, you can start pretty simple, such as telling your friends and family about your upcoming book and asking them to spread the word.

Next, you should cultivate your social media accounts and your author website, where you can offer advance reader copies (ARCs) of your book in hopes that people will leave a positive review on your Amazon and Goodreads pages. You might also collaborate with another author or influencer to cross-promote each other, or simply ask your fans to tell their friends about your book once it’s released.

One particularly innovative technique used by self-publishing authors these days is the copy-based referral system — i.e. when a reader orders a copy of your book, you send them two copies and tell them to give the extra to a friend. By doing this, you convert every reader into a member of your street team without them even knowing. (And the more you grow your street team now, the more prepared you’ll be when you self-publish your next book.)

Mistake #4: Forsaking your mailing list

self-publishing mistakes

Another major mistake that will come back to bite you is failing to establish and cultivate a mailing list. As Dale touches on in this post, email marketing is one of the most effective ways for authors to reach readers outside the strict bounds of the publishing world.

But you can’t just pop a “Subscribe” button on your website and expect everything to fall into place. For one thing, you have to actively appeal to people if you want them to subscribe to your list. You might do this by offering a reader magnet: a free item (such as a download of one of your previous books) for new subscribers.

Secondly, once you do have a healthy pool of subscribers, don’t neglect them! If you want them to actually buy your book when the time comes, you need to be constantly offering things in the meantime — book previews, helpful newsletters, behind-the-scenes details about your process, etc. Then, when you’re ready to actually release your self-published book, you can mention it in an email and ask your subscribers to buy it in a way that seems organic and genuine. This is called the “give, give, give, ask” technique, and it’s pretty reliable in terms of getting results.

Mistake #5: Not updating your book details post-launch

self publishing mistakes

Mistake #5 concerns another aspect of your book launch that you might not have even considered: the state of your book details after your book has been out for awhile.

If you’ve followed my advice and optimized your description, along with your cover, keywords, and all those other critical sales tools, then you should be doing pretty well. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do better! So continue experimenting with your blurb, keywords, and categories to see if you can rank better. One of the advantages of self-publishing on Amazon is that its algorithms are constantly analyzing these factors, so even a small change can make a big difference.

Indeed, whatever you can do to help your book succeed — even after your launch — do it! As you’ve probably gathered by now, the most common self-publishing mistakes involve not doing something. So don’t hold back — now is the time to go all-out!